RICHMOND, Va. – It’s graduation season, when bright young students must endure one final, mind-numbing lecture before collecting their degrees: the commencement address.
This speech seldom contains advice you can actually use. The speaker often receives a generous check for his or her remarks, but dares not utter anything that might offend someone for fear of being protested, “disinvited” or blacklisted from future graduation ceremonies.
Not being a celebrity, a politician or a rich donor, I have little chance of ever being invited to deliver a commencement address, much less disinvited. But I’ll share a few practical tips for you grads anyway, at no charge:
- If you need to move back home for a while – or delay moving out – it’s OK. Millions of others share your plight. But make your bed and help with the dishes. And offer to pay rent, whether it’s asked for or not.
- Don’t check your text messages during job interviews. Trust me on this one.
- If you’re graduating with significant student loan debt (2011 grads walked the aisle owing an average of nearly $27,000), pay it off before you incur more debt. Don’t start your adult life in bondage to creditors. It will set a pattern you might never escape. Stay available to God. As long you are servicing debt, you won’t be fully available to serve Him.
- The job market still stinks. You’ve probably heard about that. The unemployment rate for older teens and post-college 20-somethings hovers around 16 percent and tops 25 percent if you include young adults who have given up looking for work or are underemployed part-timers. Don’t lose hope while waiting for your dream job. Any honest work is honorable work in God’s economy. He will open the right doors in His time if you follow Him. In the meantime, learn everything He wants to teach you where you are.
- The research about Millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000, says you want to experience the wider world up close – to see it, touch it, interact with it. OK, now is your opportunity to do that, unfettered by the family and school commitments of the past or the major adult responsibilities you will face in the future. Go out there and find a place to serve God and others for a year or two, or more, regardless of whether it specifically contributes to your career path.
“One of the characteristics of Millennial life has become the image of the traveler,” observes David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, which has exhaustively studied Millennials and their relationship to spiritual life. “They want to wander the world, both in real life and in digital ways. They want to feel untethered. There is a trend among young adults of delaying the pressures of adult life as long as possible; they want to embrace a lifestyle of risk, exploration and unscripted moments….
“This transience stands in contrast to the staid, predictable, and often overprotective experience that most churches seem to offer. The gap is simple: Millennials are a generation that craves spontaneity, participation, adventure and clan-like relationships, but what they often find in churches are featureless programs and moralistic content. Leaders who hope to alter the spiritual journeys of today’s Millennials need to embrace something of a ‘reverse mentoring’ mindset, allowing the next generation to help lead alongside established leaders…. Millennials are more willing to be challenged than most church leaders are willing to challenge them.”
If you recognize something of yourself in that generational profile, embrace it – even if Mom, Dad and your own internal clock are desperately urging you to get a job and settle down. But don’t wander for the sake of wandering. Wander with a purpose: God’s purpose.
He might lead you to the ends of the earth to proclaim His love to people who have never heard the name of Jesus. He might lead you to serve within walking distance of the street or the church where you grew up. He might lead you to do both.
Follow Him. Those two words are the best graduation advice you will ever hear.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent. To investigate the global possibilities of “wandering with a purpose,” visit going.imb.org. Visit WorldView Conversation, the blog related to this column.)